Third and Pine

Shots rang out on Third and Pine in the gritty heart of downtown Seattle, Washington. A major commuter hub in the midst of rush hour, it was bustling with activity. All were strangers to one another. They’re forever linked now, as they hit the ground together and scrambled for cover.

This was the third shooting in the area in just over 24 hours. The total head count for those three incidents is two dead, and 8 injured, including a 9-year-old boy. The latest of these three tragedies escalated from some kind of a dispute outside the McDonalds.

There’s no fight on earth, absolutely none, that justifies opening fire on a crowd of strangers. It’s heartbreaking. It’s outrageous. It’s unnecessary.

What strikes me most about this situation is that it was so arbitrary. All the victims were simply minding their own business. Perhaps they were getting ready to catch a bus after a hard day’s work, or craving some French fries, or stopping in for their daily coffee break. Maybe they had just paused long enough to text a message to a spouse. “Honey, could you pick up a gallon of milk on the way home?” “Don’t forget to stop at the dry cleaners.” And bam, their lives were forever changed, if not ended.

Our very existence, in general, is pretty arbitrary. We never know when we’ll find ourselves at the Thirds and the Pines of life. It could all end in a second. There’s no way to know.

You can choose to live your life in fear because of this, but I think a better option is to savor every single moment you have, because each one is a precious gift. It’s all so fragile, so priceless, so bittersweet. It’s much better to appreciate than to fear.

So, your homework assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to go tell someone you love them. Right now.

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Is Environmental Regulation Good?

How you answer that question most likely has a lot to do with whether you live in a red state or a blue state in America. Conservatives, in general, feel that governmental regulations are bad, and that industries should be allowed to self-regulate. They feel that federal regulations impede industry’s ability to be profitable, and therefore they have a negative impact on jobs and the economy.

This is one of the many ways that conservatives and I part company. I have never seen industries act in the best interest of the common man, so I feel they need to be watched over very closely. But everyone is entitled to their opinion, and subsequently their vote. That’s how democracy works.

I only hope that when people vote, they cast educated votes. I certainly try to. In an attempt to educate myself about the vast gulf in my opinions as compared to the average conservative, I decided to read a fascinating book entitled Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. I highly recommend that you read this well thought out book, regardless of your location on the political spectrum. The author is a sociologist who spends a year in conservative Louisiana to get to know the people, and learn how they have drawn the conclusions that they have on a variety of subjects, including the environment.

Louisiana has been ground zero for an unbelievable number of environmental disasters. (See also, my post entitled, “A Forgotten Catastrophe.”) According to page 79 of this book, “residents of red states suffer higher rates of industrial pollution than do residents of blue states. Voters in the twenty-two states that voted Republican in the five presidential elections between 1992 and 2008—and who generally call for less government regulation in business—lived in more polluted environments.”

But she also discovered that it isn’t just a state by state issue. She looked at data on the EPA website, which breaks down risk of exposure to pollution into counties, and she compared that to people’s answers on the General Social Survey, that linked what people believed about the environment and politics county by county.

What she found was very interesting. “If, in 2010, you lived in a county with a higher exposure to toxic pollution, we discovered, you are more likely to believe that Americans ‘worry too much’ about the environment and to believe that the United States is doing ‘more than enough’ about it. You are also more likely to describe yourself as a strong Republican.”

I find this paradox both fascinating and heartbreaking. Just because I disagree with you politically does not mean I want you to suffer. And, of course, I feel that your children should suffer even less. Unfortunately, your stance on the environment effects the planet as a whole, as well.

You don’t have to agree with me. But can you at least understand why I would find this contradiction in thinking confusing? Therein lies the crux of our extreme divide. By voting the way that they do on environmental issues, conservatives are hurting themselves and the rest of us. And that hurts to watch.

Like this Escher box below, I struggle to understand this logic.

Paradox

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Mid-Month Marvels: Greenagers

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

I’ve blogged about my teen participation in the Youth Conservation Corps before. It was a very life-changing part of my growing up, and it gave me skills that I employ to this day. It used to be a federal program, and I truly believe that when Reagan did away with it, the country didn’t quite realize what it was giving up in terms of teaching the nation’s youth how to be strong, capable, confident and hard working adults.

So imagine my joy when I stumbled upon an organization called Greenagers. The only fault I can find with this amazing program is that it is only in the Berkshires and a small part of New York State. I think this entire country could benefit from this fantastic idea.

According to their website, “Greenagers provides employment and volunteer opportunities for teens and young adults in the fields of conservation, sustainable farming, and environmental leadership.”

They have several programs. They help maintain the Appalachian trails in the area, work with local farmers, and install front yard gardens for area families. They work on public lands to build trails, remove invasive species, and construct kiosks and benches. They also have a river walk stewardship program, and a climate action program to educate students in middle school.

There are so many benefits to Greenagers that there is not enough space in this blog to count them all. Not only does it provide youth with gainful employment, but it educates them about the environment and provides them with tools to maintain this planet in a way that we should have been doing all along. It also teaches them teamwork and gives them skills in collaboration. It shows them how to work with their hands, and it gets them off the couch and into the great outdoors for actual exercise. It gives them an amazing work ethic and it instills confidence and keeps them out of trouble.

Currently, this organization is raising funds to acquire the April Hill Education and Conservation Center, a 100 acre plot that includes a farmhouse that was built in 1744, a barn, and several outbuildings, not far from the Appalachian Trail. This will allow them to expand this incredible program and increase their opportunities to educate and uplift the community. Check out this amazing video, and please join me in supporting this great cause.

Greenagers

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The Creepy Concept of Covenant Marriage

Recently, I came across a disturbing little factoid. In 1997, the state of Louisiana passed Covenant Marriage into law. Arkansas and Arizona later jumped on the bandwagon. Thank goodness no other states have taken the bait.

These policies, if you opt into them, make marriage more difficult to get into, and a lot more difficult to get out of. For starters, according to Wikipedia, you have to attend premarital counseling sessions, which “emphasize the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage”, and you must sign a statement saying that the marriage is for life.

While I think premarital counseling is a great idea, I wonder who exactly is conducting these sessions. And I really would have a problem with having someone other than me and my spouse dictate what the nature, purpose and responsibilities of our marriage are to be. Marriage is what you make it. No two are alike.

And as for signing one’s life away, if you aren’t confident that the other person is going to try for a lifelong commitment unless they put it in writing, then you might want to reexamine how much you trust this person in the first place. Trust is the bedrock of any relationship. If you don’t have that, you’re building a castle on sand.

This is starting to sound like the equivalent of a homeowners’ association for relationships. I chafe at rules and regulations. I’ll pass.

Even worse are the restrictions placed on getting out of the marriage. In a covenant marriage, you are waiving your rights to a no-fault divorce. Before you can even consider divorce, you have to first go to counseling. You must also be able to prove that your spouse has committed adultery, a felony, is a drug addict or a sexual predator, or that you’ve been living apart for at least a year (perhaps two, depending on the state.)

First of all, why bother with counseling if your spouse is involved in such heinous acts? Those things, as far as I’m concerned, are deal breakers.

And you notice there’s no provision for your husband punching you in the face and not being prosecuted for it, nor is there an option if your wife suddenly joins a cult. Your only recourse in those situations would be a long painful separation, and there’s no guarantee that the nut job in question would agree to being apart.

Life is messy. It can go south in many ways that are outside the bounds of these few legislative dicta. No one should have the right to define what you deem to be unsupportable.

Is it just me, or is it creepy and strange that these three super red states, full to the brim with conservatives who claim to want less government, not more, are all for these highly regulated covenant marriages? But then, this legislates religion and “family values”, and restricts the freedom of women even further, so yeah, I guess it makes sense.

Fortunately, these three states have not made covenant marriage mandatory, and less than 1 percent of the couples getting married each year in these places opt in to this foolishness. But still, it seems like a disturbing, backward trend, and it gives me the willies.

I love holding my husband’s hand, but I wouldn’t want to be handcuffed to it.

Business people handcuffed together

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All for Nothin’

I know someone who calls herself “Nothin’”. Actually, I only know her in passing. I wish I knew her better. I’d love to set her straight.

How do I know Nothin’? (Keep your smart aleck responses to that out of the comments section!) I’ve already confessed within the confines of this blog that I play Pokemon Go. Yeah, I know, it’s silly. But it’s also fun.

Many people are under the misapprehension that this is a game just for little kids, and that it’s about catching and killing monsters and fighting. First of all, no monsters are killed during the course of this game. No blood is shed. And while there are indeed battles, they’re more like jovial sports competitions. They barely raise your heart rate.

What I like most about the game, aside from collecting the unique monsters, is that you can make friends from all around the world, and exchange virtual postcards with them that you collect during your Pokemon travels. It’s fun to see pictures of graffiti in Spain or architecture in Indonesia or parks in Colombia. It’s fun to imagine what has brought these people to these places, and picture myself visiting these locations as well. I like to imagine what things people consider routine that I would find exotic.

When you play Pokemon Go, the first thing you do is get an avatar and choose a unique name. People can get very creative with these names. You also get to choose your gender and how your avatar dresses. But you don’t get to chat with other players.

Over time, though, you learn a little something about the person based on the superficial choices he or she makes. Nothin’ could be an adult or a child. She has chosen a female avatar, and she dresses that avatar very stylishly and conservatively. Her avatar is white, with blonde hair. She sends me postcards from Central Canada. She only plays maybe once or twice a week.

That’s all I know about her, other than the fact that of all the words she could have chosen to identify herself, she chose Nothin’. That breaks my heart. Man, I wish I could talk to her!

I hope she’s not severely depressed and crying out for help in such a way that none of us can ever respond. I hope she isn’t surrounded by people who are chipping away at her self-esteem. I hope she doesn’t feel inferior because she is female. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but the frustrating part is that I’ll never know what motivates Nothin’.

I wish I could write on the virtual postcards that I send to her. I would tell her that she is, in fact, something. I would tell her that I’m glad she exists. I would tell her that I like her style. I would tell her that I see her, and that she has value in this world. I would ask her to seek help and hold on.

Because nobody is nothin’.

you are awesome.

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A Perfect Mess

I could never live in one of those neighborhoods where all the houses are identical. I could never even live in an area with a homeowner’s association. I’m full of too many quirks and perfect imperfections. That, and I resent authority. Nobody is going to tell me what color to paint my mailbox.

But I must admit that I’ve been fascinated with New Urbanism as a concept ever since I saw the movie The Truman Show, which was filmed in Seaside, Florida. New Urbanism consists of meticulously planned communities that give off this 1950’s vibe of perfection that never actually existed. Spotless, flawless homes with spotless, flawless yards and spotless, flawless streets, restaurants, and shopping areas. Mixed-use buildings with cute little high-end shops and condominiums. A place where all the movies are rated G, and all the neighbors look exactly like you.

I love visiting these places because they are the embodiment of Trump’s idea of what a great America used to look like. It’s like peering into a misguided fantasy. It’s hard to look away.

These places are so immaculate and unblemished that they are disturbing, in the way that robots designed to look like humans are disturbing. You look into their smiling, robotic faces and you know that there’s no “there” there. Beneath the surface, something is extremely not human.

I visited the planned community of Celebration, Florida a few times. It was fun, in a voyeuristic kind of way. I blogged about it and places like it in a post called “Too Perfect.”

When I go to one of these communities, I’m impressed by their beauty, but at the same time I’m constantly on edge. I’m afraid I’ll scuff the sidewalk or something, and these men in white coats will burst from the bushes and carry me away. There’s an underlying tension required to maintain perfection, and that makes it unpleasant.

I can just imagine the neighborly infighting. “The third slat on Mr. Jones’ white picket fence is 1 degree off center. This is not to be borne. We need to report him.”

It’s unsettling to gaze upon perfection and yet be unable to shake the feeling that just below the thin veneer, there’s some kind of moral decay. Or maybe even a physical decay. And so it was that I wasn’t overly shocked to read an article entitled, “Celebration, Florida: How Disney’s ‘Community of Tomorrow’ Became a Total Nightmare”.

It seems that many of the residents of this community have filed a lawsuit, because the place is, in fact, falling apart. Disney sold much of Celebration to a private equity firm in 2004, and ever since then, Celebrationites claim that this firm has been pocketing homeowners dues and not making any repairs whatsoever. There’s so much water and termite damage that some people have had to leave, or put up with swathes of black mold, swaying floors, and unusable stairways. The firm is also threatening to slap the homeowners with fees that are higher than the original price of their residences, all while their property values decline.

It must be awful to think you’re investing in perfection, only to discover that, even in that magical place, human greed and incompetence still rises to the surface to muck everything up. That would be like gazing upon the forbidden fruit, and then realizing that, if not nurtured, it can rot before it’s even harvested, just like all the other produce in the world.

I wish these people good luck with their lawsuit, but I think their dream was inherently flawed in the first place. I’ll take my one of a kind, unregulated home any day.

Celebration_banner_Skyline

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A Basic Flaw in the Race War Concept

If you’re in a public place right now, look around you. Pick out people of your own race. That may be harder to do than you think. Race is not based on science. It’s a human construct. We could just as accurately divide ourselves up into rival groups based on eye color, the length and number of our nose hairs, or pimple count. But anyway, do the best that you can.

Have you found your “tribe” yet? Good. (I suppose.)

Now, ask yourself what the motivations of these people might be. Are you all in full agreement politically? Do you all hold the same views on religion? Most importantly, are you all on the same page regarding race?

Don’t bother answering. I’ll do it for you. You haven’t a clue. How could you know? You haven’t even talked to these people. You never will.

This is just a core sample of your cluelessness. Now multiply it by a gajillion, to account for all the other people in the world whom you don’t currently see, and you will get an idea of just how little you know about you and yours. (That goes for all of us. I’m not just picking on you.)

So why on Earth would anyone think that one’s race, or any other race for that matter, would rise up as one in hate, anger, and violence to participate in a race war? It beggars belief that there are so many people out there who think that humans are that unified and robotic in their thoughts and actions.

We don’t even all agree about cranberry sauce, for crying out loud. (Pro or con? Lumpy or jelly-like? Canned or fresh? This is the stuff of great holiday drama.)

But that’s racism in a nutshell, isn’t it? The misguided idea that one can slap a label on someone and then have a complete understanding of their motivations, and be able to accurately predict what they will or will not do. As if we’ll all line up like obedient little ducks in a row, sorted into groups based on the size of our tail feathers.

Do you have any idea how insane that sounds? It’s even worse than insane. It’s idiotic. And yet people buy into it every day.

Charles Manson believed in Helter Skelter, a race war that he felt he could start himself, to the world’s ultimate horror and dismay. The neo-Nazi buffoon, William Pierce, wrote The Turner Diaries to encourage racial annihilation, and crazies have been inspired by it ever since.

You can find people who believe in this insanity all over the web. Dylann Roof was one, and he went on to kill 9 people in a church in Charleson, SC because of it. And Roof inspired the mental defective who killed 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.

These poor excuses for human beings went on to inspire a seriously mentally ill guy named James Harris Jackson to walk up to a total stranger in New York City and stab him in the back like the coward that Jackson is. You can read more about his pathetic devolution here. It’s a tragic story. My heart breaks for his family. Thank God he got life without parole. Now he can hang out with equally warped Aryans in their own little iron-barred clubhouse.

But don’t misunderstand. Violence can beget violence. Insanity can trigger insanity. But these people are sick exceptions to the rule. Most of us march to the beat of our own, individual drummers. We cannot be controlled.

I suspect that this utter lack of control is what scares white supremacists most of all. Too bad, so sad. It’s the very definition of life.

Diversity

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